Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal defective disorder (SAD) is a form of clinical depression that is experienced during particular seasons or times of the year and often triggered by the changing seasons and weather. Whilst not limited to the winter months, many may find that their seasonal depression manifests during the colder months, with shorter days, temperature drops, and less sunlight, all triggering a low mood. Others may find that hotter months cause sleep disturbances and changes in eating patterns, leading to a lower mood. Seasonal depression differs for everyone, with different triggers and symptoms for different cases, the consistent identifier of seasonal depression is that it occurs around the same time every year. If you are suspicious that you have a form of depression, such as seasonal depression it is always best to check with your doctor or a therapist for a diagnosis in the first instance and seek out mental health treatment.
According the UK based mental health charity Mind, the signs and symptoms of SAD are very similar to regular depression, and include but are not limited to:
- lack of energy
- finding it hard to concentrate
- not wanting to see people
- sleep problems, such as sleeping more or less than usual, difficulty waking up, or difficulty falling or staying asleep
feeling sad, low, tearful, guilty or hopeless
- changes in your appetite, for example feeling more hungry or wanting more snacks
- being more prone to physical health problems, such as colds, infections or other illnesses
- losing interest in sex or physical contact
- suicidal feelings
- other symptoms of depression. If you also have other mental health problems, you might find that things get worse at times when you’re affected by SAD.
Other symptoms may include a lack of pleasure in the things you used to enjoy, an increase in irritability and more. Many people may experience the ‘blues’, the ‘winter blues’, mood changes or sluggishness during the colder months, or feel low due to various ongoing circumstances in their lives. Especially after the tumultuous year of 2020, where the vast majority of people have had their lives upturned, minimal social contact and much more time in their own homes. However, the temporary effects of feeling low are very different from the life altering effects of depression, which will begin to severely impact the way you enjoy life, accomplish tasks and negatively impact your home/school/personal or working life. If your low mood worsens and begins to affect your life, it is best to consult a doctor of therapist.
Whilst seasonal depression can affect people in the summer, more research has been conducted on winter SAD. Which, although varied, often begins in the Autumn, stretching through winter and easing off in the spring. Factors such as the reduction of sunlight affecting our biological clock, shorter days, colder weather, changes in serotonin and melatonin levels can all play a part.
According to Vouge, some psychologists, like other mental health issues increasing the severity of a particular bout of seasonal depression, the COVID-19 pandemic may potential make this harder for SAD sufferers this year as well.
‘According to Erlanger Turner, a clinical psychologist and founder of Turner Psychological & Consulting Services, the pandemic and lockdown have the potential to increase risk for SAD for a number of reasons, including not being able to get outdoors as frequently, which can increase risk for mood episodes. Moreover, the pandemic is a major stressful life event on a global scale, and people with SAD have an underlying vulnerability to depression and are sensitive to stressful life events. “On one hand, people with SAD are used to isolating in the winter because they tend to withdraw and go into ‘hibernation mode’ as part of their symptoms,” explains Rohan. “However, I believe that the stress associated with the COVID-19 pandemic is contributing to both more severe depression symptoms than is typical in people with SAD this fall/winter and the persistence of some depressive symptoms in the spring/summer when people with SAD typically feel their best.”’
If you do experience seasonal depression it is highly important that you seek out mental health support to address the individualities of your case and support yourself safely and effectively. Alongside this, some people have found that various techniques and tricks have helped slightly alleviate the symptoms of seasonal depression. If you suffer from depression as well, you may have some techniques that help you feel a little better, so be sure to employ them too. Some advice includes: exercise, spend more time outside for extra daylight (especially in the mornings), create a sleep schedule (and stick to it), eat healthier, stay connected to friends and loved ones and take vitamin supplements.